My favourite site in Manali is the Hadimba Devi Temple. According to popular myths, Hadimba was a local girl of unsurpassed beauty and extraordinary virtue. However, force of circumstances compelled her to live with her brother, an evil demon. The god Bhim (of Mahabharat fame) hearing of her predicament, rescued and married her. I am sure they lived happily ever after. She is revered in the whole valley as the Mother Goddess.
The temple stands on a knoll surrounded by a deeply wooded glade of giant pines. Unlike other temples of the region, the Hadimba Devi Mandir is a strangely sombre black and grey wooden structure with a brazen roof. The mandir complex is permeated with a strange, palpable ambience, which calms the mind and sends the heart soaring to immeasurable heights of inner freedom. It is a haven, where a tired soul could spend a lifetime, oblivious of the rest of the world hurrying by on its frantic journey to nowhere.
Later that evening I decided to take some low angle photographs of the boulder-strewn River Beas. I grabbed my equipment and headed for the river, some distance below the town. The sun had just set and the available light was softly diffused and gentle. I gingerly positioned myself on a large rock, water swirling around it. The Nikon F-5 with a 20-mm lens was mounted on a tripod and armed with a long cable-release. Deciding to abandon precision and detail, for an impression of sheer movement, I used slow shutter speeds to record the motion of the water as a blur. The effects of slow shutter work are not always predictable, but at their most successful, can convey a rare grace and fluidity of motion. I carefully composed the picture to include the entire river up to the horizon and focussed manually on a rock about eight feet away. Tired but happy, I headed back to my hotel.
At dawn, I caught a bus for the state capital: Shimla. Local rumour has it that it is the largest hill resort in the world. I cannot be certain of the veracity of this claim. Nevertheless, I was deeply impressed by the cleanliness of the city. With nostalgia and comfort skilfully inter-laced, Shimla opens a door, inviting the visitor to share a bygone era and its enduring charms. It was the summer capital of the Raj and still possesses some of the finest examples of colonial architecture. The edifice that
impressed me most with its renaissance inspired style was the former Vice-regal Lodge (now called the Institute of Advanced Study). It photographs best by semi-frontal light. Start a little after 2.00 p.m. and use the trees on either corner of the large, lush lawn, to frame the vice-regal residence. Don't forget to use your polarising filter.
Shimla offers an unusual picture of a hill city. Viewed from across the intervening valley, its multi-coloured houses literally appear to be built one on top of another. A magnificent juxtaposition created from a rainbow palette. Using a vertical frame, zoom in with a 120-mm lens on the gothic church. You will be confronted by the ultimate in co-existence. The church has a mosque as a neighbour. Both are snuggled close, abiding in amity, one complimenting the other.
At 5.00 am, I caught a bus for Chamba, the final leg of my Himachal odyssey. The journey was long and taxing, but the scenic beauty of the land was breath taking, and worth the travails it involved. Chamba lies nestled against the right bank of the Ravi and is known for its richly ornamented temples, its handicrafts and above all, for it's incredible scenic beauty. The pristine and serene valley offers inspiring views of the surrounding mountains. I was two days trekking along the river photographing its exhilarating landscape. The town folk are friendly and hospitable, and I spent two nights with a local family. The woman of the house was a striking old lady who was amazingly unselfconscious before my camera. On the third morning, prior to leaving, I offered to pay for the warm hospitality. My host gently but firmly declined my well-intentioned offer. His smile made it amply clear that his hospitality was not for sale. A truly gracious people.
At Chamba, my Himachal assignment was complete and I was ready to head home. Reflecting on my stay in Himachal, I realised that I had been exposed to an awe-inspiring spectrum of scenic splendour, serenity and serendipity. I had experienced sparkling streams, lush forests, towering peaks, glorious sunsets, superb temples and exquisite colonial architecture. However, more than anything else, I had had the rare distinction of sharing the warmth, the camaraderie, and the hospitality of a gracious, happy and gentle people.
Somewhere in Himachal, I lost my heart…Don Alney
14-D Bondel Road,
Kolkata - 700 019.